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Economic Reform a Key Concern for Latvian Voters - 2002-10-05


In Latvia, parliamentary elections are under way. No single party is expected to win a majority and a coalition is likely. The new government will be entrusted with leading the country into the European Union and NATO.

Opinion polls taken shortly before Saturday's parliamentary election indicate that Latvians want to continue the course of economic reforms underway in the country.

There are 20 parties competing in the election, but none is expected to gain a majority in the 100 member Parliament.

The two leading candidates for prime minister include the head of the People's Party, Andris Skele, and former Central Bank head Einars Repse, who stepped down from that post only 10 months ago to set up the New Era party and run for office.

Mr. Repse has captured the headlines during a hard-fought campaign, largely due to his call to root out corruption. He is popular as the man who oversaw the difficult transition from the communist era, which included the introduction of the new lat currency.

Latvia hopes to join both the European Union and the NATO military alliance within the next few years.

People's Party leader Andris Skele, is also firmly pro-business.

Polls indicate that current Prime Minister Andris Berzins is unlikely to retain his job, in part because of his focus on foreign policy. Many people in the country of 2.5 million appear to think that bread-and-butter issues are more important now than EU and NATO membership, which are likely to come soon in any case. The European Commission may recommend next week that Latvia join the EU by 2004. And NATO is expected to issue an invitation to Latvia to join, during a summit meeting in Prague next month.

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